Of all of the many, many moons in our system, Europa remains the most tantalizing. It’s vast ice-covered oceans may or may not contain life, but even if it doesn’t, the likelihood of it containing exploitable resources remains. And this is ultimately the story behind The Artemis Project, a new boardgame that is on store shelves after a successful Kickstarter campaign.
What Is The Artemis Project?
The Artemis Project is an abstract resource management and worker placement game from The Gamers Guild. It is now available on Amazon and likely at your local game store.
The game is for 1-5 players and takes about an hour to play. The inclusion of small pieces means that The Artemis Project is rated 12+, but there’s no content in the game anyone might find offensive (except perhaps a few pieces of implied violence in flavor text), so younger kids who are comfortable with fairly deep, abstract strategy won’t have a problem with the game.
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The Artemis Project Components
The game includes the following components:
- 1 highly detailed game board
- 5 player mats
- 52 building tiles, split equally between ocean and surface buildings
- 25 dice, 5 of each color
- 10 player markers, 2 of each color
- 22 expedition cards
- 14 event cards
- 60 wooden mineral markers
- 60 plastic energy markers
- 84 colonist Meeples, divided betweeen 28 pioneers, 24 engineers, 16 marines and 16 stewards
- 1 draw bag
- 1 “Shakeship”
- 1 wooden event marker
- 1 wooden phase marker
- 35 wooden tool markers
- 35 expedition markers
- 20 “x5” tokens
- 12 Directives cards
Note: I have the Kickstarter Edition, which includes several upgraded/special components. I will note these as I discuss them, but be aware that the retail version does differ slightly from the image above.
While the gameplay of The Artemis Project is fun, the thing I like most about the game is its look and feel. This is, hands down, one of the most beautiful games I own. All of the parts are all very well conceived, and most important, the artwork is downright gorgeous.
Let’s start with the board. The first surprising thing is that it’s small: roughly half the size of a normal game board. But it’s so well designed that they were able to get everything they needed in the minimal space they had.
The Artemis Project uses a combination of resource management and worker placement. Each round, players place dice in various locations on the board, and then once that is done, each location is resolved. But they need to be resolved in a specific order, and the board is laid out such that no one needs to memorize anything. The resolution phase begins with the area on the right side of the board, which is quite conveniently labeled with a big “1.” Play proceeds not only clockwise, but numerically, around the board.
How many games have you played where you have certain continuing setup requirements for parts of the board, but you constantly have to go in and dig out the rules to remember what goes where? Not an issue here, as the requirements–each area needs to be set up before each round, so this isn’t a one-off thing–are printed at each location with easy-to-remember icons.
An even bigger frustration with a lot of more complex games is when you have some kind of event or modifier impacting a round, but it’s only printed on a card somewhere off the board and thus, easily forgotten or overlooked.
The Artemis Project does use an Event deck for these, and the details of the event are indeed off on a card somewhere off the board, but they solve the issue of forgetting the event by having players put an Event token in the area impacted by the event. You still have to read the card to know what is supposed to happen, but putting the indicator on the board that something is supposed to happen here is brilliant. It’s a cool little addition to the design that I hope lots of other game designers pick up.
Beyond these touches, the components in the game are incredibly well designed throughout.
The dice used for the worker placement element are standard D6, but the designers avoided the mistake made by so many others and made certain that the five colors used are so distinct from one another that it’s impossible to get them confused.
The markers used for energy are small clear plastic cubes, while the mineral markers are wooden hexagonal prisms. But the toolkits are custom-shaped wooden pieces resembling boxes with handles. Again, the attention to detail here really sets the game apart–there’s no going back to the rulebook to say, “wait, what color generic cubes mean that?”
The colonists in the game are represented by meeples, and thanks to a stretch goal reached during the Kickstarter campaign, they are also custom shaped. While you might not necessarily remember that the purple person with the robe is a steward, the fact that these are both different shapes and colors (and again, very obviously different colors), and that the colors match the colors of the icons for these meeples throughout the game, means that you always know exactly which meeple you need for any given situation.
Making the meeples different shapes did create one additional problem for the game. In several situations, you are supposed to randomly draw meeples, and of course with their distinct shapes they couldn’t be tossed in a bag and drawn out.
While the game does come with a drawbag, it also includes (thanks to another stretch goal) the Shakeship–a very cool thematic addition that you load up with all of the meeples and then, when you need more, you simply shake them out of the ship.
The player mats are made of two layers of thick cardboad with insets for the various places where pieces need to go. The inset is a nice touch for the energy cubes, minerals, toolboxes, expedition badges, and colonists, but it genuinely helps for the dice spots, since having them sit in their own spaces reduces the chances of them getting hit and their numbers accidentally changed.
Speaking of the expedition badges: in the regular edition of The Artemis Project, they are nice thick cardboard, but the Kickstarter Edition upgraded those to metal. Either way, they’re beautiful.
The game comes with two sets of cards. The expedition cards are plastic-backed poker-sized cards. They all have beautiful artwork, as you can see above, along with a consistent layout that makes it easy to see how many energy and minerals need to be played (top left corner), the total needed to succeed on the expedition (top right), and the rewards for those who play the expedition (bottom). They also have a name and flavor text.
The event cards are bigger–slightly less than double the size of the expedition cards They have artwork in the same style, along with the event that is being triggered, and the point at which the event will trigger.
There are also two sets of building cards. The surface cards, shown above, are played in the final stages of the game, while the ocean buildings are used in the beginning. As with other components, these follow an easy-to-understand format that prevents constantly needing to reference the rules, and they line up next to each other nicely to boot.
Each player has two player markers to use. The rounder, wider shields are for keeping score and the narrowing ones are used on the relief track. This is another upgraded component that everyone gets because of a Kickstarter stretch goal. Round tokens or cubes would have been fine here but these shapes help unify the theme.
How to Play The Artemis Project
Place the board in the middle of the table. Put the Phase Marker on event spot A (on the right side of the board). Put the minerals, energy cubes, tools, and expedition badges in separate piles near the board.
Take 4 each of the engineers, stewards, and marines from the supply of colonists and place them near the Academy at the top of the board. Reserve 1 pioneer per player, then put the remaining colonists in the draw bag or, preferably, the Shakeship.
Individually shuffle the two stacks of buildings and place them in separated face-down stacks near the Gantry on the left side of the board.
Shuffle the Event cards and draw 6. Put the rest back in the box. Shuffle the expeditions deck and place it near the Hangers. Place the resources near the Vents and Quarry.
Each player then picks a color and gets the five die of that color along with the matching player mat. Give each player 3 energy cubes and 3 minerals, along with one of the reserved pioneer cubes. The energy and minerals are placed on their respective spots on the board, while the pioneer goes in the Shelter spot.
Place one marker per player on the Scoring Track in the middle of the board, and the other on the Relief Track.
Draw Expedition cards equal to one less than the number of players and place them face-up near the Hangers. If any show awards such as enegy cubes, minerals, or tools, place those on the cards. If a reward is for a building, draw an Ocean building and place it next to the card. If a reward is for one or more colonists, randomly draw them from the bag and place them on the card.
Add the number of energy cubes or minerals to the vents or quarry spaces on the board as indicated from the drawn expedition cards. Then, add two additional energy cubes and two additional minerals to their spaces.
Draw Ocean buildings equal to one more than the number of players and place them face-up near the Gantry.
Draw colonists equal to the number of players plus 2 and place them in the Doorstep.
No additional setup is necessary for the Academy or the Outfitters.
Draw the top Event card and place the Event marker on the spot on the board indicated on the card.
Choose a starting player at random. All players roll all five die to create a dice pool and place the die on their player mat.
Each round is divided into three phases: Placement, Resolution, and Upkeep.
In the Placement phase, each player places one of her die on a spot on the board to try to claim it.
For the Expeditions, players place die to attempt to win the award. Each Expedition has a number indicating its difficulty. At the end of the Placement phase, the total amount on all of the die on the card needs to meet or exceed this difficulty, at which point players win rewards.
In the example of the card shown above, it has a difficulty of 9. (All Expedtions have a difficuly above 6, making it impossible for anyone to accomplish the expedition with only a single, unassisted die.) Should that expedition succeed, the players would be able to choose either two colonists (a light brown and a red one), or one colonist.
Because more points were spent than required, the expedition will succeed, and in the Resolution phase, the orange player will get to choose which reward they want, with the other reward going to the other player.
You can also send colonists on expeditions. By spending one energy each, players can send Pioneers with their die, which have the effect of increasing the die’s value. In other words, if a player plays a die showing a 5, and sends one Pioneer, that die counts as a 6, both when totalling the die to determine success and for determining the winner. Players can send as many Pioneers as they wish or can afford, based on the amount of available energy.
Players can also send a single Engineer. If the expedition succeeds, the player would receive any 2 resources in addition to whatever award they get. When we played, no one ever did this, so I’m not sure what the advantage is.
Instead, you can also send a single Marine. When you do this, you can take another player’s die on that same expedition and reduce its value by 1 or 2. We never did this, either, but at least I get the strategy involved here.
Finally, you can send a single Steward, but only with a die of value 1 or 2. If you do this, and the expedition succeeds and you end up with the highest total on the card, you gain an additional victory point. Again, this is something that no one us took advantage of, but in retrospect I realized that I left a lot of points on the table by failing to remember to do this.
The next two options of where to play are essentially the same: the Vents and the Quarry. In both cases, you place one of your die in the space indicated, and in the Resolution phase, you may be able to gain either energy cubes (at the Vents) or minerals ( at the Quarry) equal to the value of your die.
The catch here is that in each round, there are a limited number of resources available. So, the game uses a mechanic is refers to as “exposure”. When you play your die, you place it to the right or any existing die that are less than or equal to die already placed. For example, say two prior players had placed die showing a 1 and a 4 on the Vents. If you placed a 3 die, it would go between the two existing die. If another player then also wanted to play a 3, it would go to the right of your 3. So, if you place a die showing a value of 1, you are certain to get resources … but only 1. If you instead place a higher die value, you should get more resources, but you might not get any if they run out based on earlier die.
In the photo shown above, the green player played their dice first, hoping to claim all five available energy. But then the orange player came in with their one dice, but because of the exposure mechanic, their dice pushed the green one down, which would have limited the green player to only four energy cubes … except that the purple player joined the fun with their dice, meaning that there will not be any cubes left for green to claim, even though they played first.
The Gantry allows you to bid on the right to build one of the available buildings. To do this, you place one of your die directly on the building. In so doing, you are offering to build that building for the amount of minerals shown on the die. So, if you play a 3 die, you are saying that you want to build the building for 3 minerals. However, another player may decide they want the building more, and thus play a higher value die. You could then add additional die to outbid them if you wish. It’s important to note that you do not need to have enough minerals on hand to match your bid when you place it. The Quarry is resolved before the Gantry, so any minerals you gain in that step can be used to pay for buildings.
The Doorstep using the same “exposure” method as the Vents and the Quarry, but this time, you are trying to gain colonists.
The Academy allows you to trade a colonist for a different type. Only two players can play at the Academy. To do this, you place one of your die and the colonist you are trading in on the board. There is no bidding here–whichever two players play here first will get the trade they want.
The final spot on the board you can play into is the Outfitter. This is the only spot on the board that is resolved immediately. You can play a 1, 2, 3 or 4-value die to immediately gain one tool, or a 5 or 6-value die to immediately gain 2 tools.
Tools can be used anywhere else to change the value of any die before you place it. So, if you had a 6 die left, but wanted to bid on a building at 4, you could pay two tools to change the die to a 4 before playing it. You can use tools to change die values up or down, and there’s no limit to the number of tools you can play at once, other than the rule that you cannot change a die so that its value is less and 1 or greater than 6. There are several other ways to gain tools as well, so we found that this was a faily under-utilized aspect of the game.
Once all players have placed all of their dice, you begin the Resolution Phase, starting with the Expeditions. Each card is evaluted to determine success–if the total value of the die (plus any pioneers) exceeds the difficulty, it succeeds. In this case, whichever player had the highest contribution to the success chooses one of the two rewards. The second highest contributor then gets the other reward. If only one player placed die on the card, they get both rewards. Ties are resolved in the order the dice were played, with the earlier player gaining the reward. All players who played on the card do recieve an Expedition Badge, which will count towards victory points at games’ end.
Should the expedition fail, any players who placed dice on the card move their player marker up one on the Relief track, which grants certain bonuses as players progress along it.
Dice used on the cards are returned to the player mats. Any colonists who were used for the expedition are retunred to shelters.
Once all expeditions are resolved, you move the Phase Marker to the Vents. Whomever has the left-most die (the lowest value die placed earliest), receives energy cubes equal to the die’s value. Then, the player with the second-place die receives energy equal to that die’s value, and so forth. It’s possible (and times probable) that the energy cubes available will run out before all die are resolved. Should a die be able to be partially resolved, it will be, so if a 5 die is next in line but only 2 cubes remain, that played receives 2 cubes. However, if any die cannot be resolved at all–the player gets zero cubes because they have all been taken–then that player (and any subsequent players) move their marker up one on the Relief track.
The Quarry is resolved next, and in the exact same way as the Vents.
The game includes a set of cardboard “x5” tokens that players can use to represent bigger quantities of resources if the supply starts to run low.
Once the Phase marker is moved to the Gantry, players can purchase buildings. The player with the highest-value die on a building may pay minerals in the amount shown on the die to purchase the building. This is optional–if a player bid on too many buildings, or if they failed to gain enough minerals at the Quarry, they can choose to not pay for a building. Should a player pass on paying for a building, but a lower bid exists for it, the lower-bidding player then has the option to build for the amount they bid. Should a player be unable to pay for a building, they simply do not build it.
Once gained, buildings are placed next to the player’s mat, and that player may place colonists on the building right away, up to its capacity. Each building has a number of spots on it to “staff” the building. Players place colonists on the squares on the building. As soon as you gain a building, you can (and should) move any colonists you wish to it. In the image above, the purple player has purchased the Manufactory, and was able to immediately fully staff it with an engineer (which was required) and one other colonist of any type–in this case, a pioneer. From this point on, this player will be able to gain two toolchests in the upkeep phase.
Any players who were outbid for a building may move their marker up one on the Relief track.
Once anyone who wished to build has done so, the Phase marker is moved to the Doorstep. This is resolved just as the Vents and Quarry were, but this time each player may choose to pay to acquire one or more new colonists. Each new colonist costs 2 energy, and if a player cannot pay that they are skipped. Players who placed a 1 or 2 die may select and pay for one colonist from those available. Players who placed a 3 or 4 die may select and pay for one or two colonists, and those who placed a 5 or 6 die may select and pay for one, two, or three colonists. Players may always choose which colonists they want, but only from those still available.
As with the Vents and the Quarry, should a player end up being unable to select any colonists because they were all gone, they move their marker up on the Relief track. However, they do not move up on the Relief track if they cannot gain a colonist because they were unable to pay for them.
Colonists gained here may either be placed in the player’s shelter or in any of the player’s buildings, assuming there is space for them.
The next and final spot to resolve is the Academy. Whomever played here puts the colonist they placed with their die back in the draw bag, and then takes the appropriate alternate type of colonist from the supply. You can swap any type of colonist for an engineer by playing a 1 or 2 die here, a marine by playing a 3 or 4 die, and a steward by playing a 5 or 6 die. However, at game setup, only 4 of each of those colonists are placed here, and once they run out they are gone.
Finally, anyone who played dice in the Outfitters receive their dice back (remember, the Outfitters is resolved during the Placement phase.)
Once all dice have been resolved, all players have the option of moving one colonist or swapping two. So, you can move a single colonist between the shelter and a building or vice-versa, or from one building to another. Or, you may swap two colonists between buildings or the shelter. Note that this is the only way to get colonists on to your buildings after you buy them, and the only way to get colonists out of your shelter, so it’s why you should always fully staff buildings as soon as you make the purchase if you can, and conversely, consider holding off on buying buildings you cannot staff right away.
Next, any full staffed Ocean buildings are activated. These generally result in some kind of reward, so players may gain resources or tools or be able to acquire more colonists at this point.
Then, all players must pay one energy per colonist they still have in their shelters. If they are unable to pay, they must discard (return to the bag) any colonists they cannot pay for.
Finally, the game board is refreshed, following the same procedures as for the initial setup: any unclaimed expedition cards are discarded and replaced by new ones; any remaining energy cubes and minerals are likewise discarded, and the vents and quarry are restocked by looking at the values on the newly-revealed expedition cards; new buildings are drawn (although unclaimed ones remain in place), up to a maximum of 8 buildings; and new colonists are drawn from the bag (again, unclaimed colonists remain from prior rounds).
Then, whomever has the fewest resources on their mat chooses the starting player for the next round. Play continues for a total of 6 rounds. At the end of round 6, points are tallied, and whomever has the most wins.
Why You Should Play The Artemis Project
This game is unquestionably complex. Almost all of the gameplay takes place during the Placement phase, and with each die, you have at least 6 options of where to play it. But of course those options constantly change based on what the other players either are doing or might do.
This isn’t a game with a lot of direct player interaction–playing a Marine with a die on an expedition is the only time you can directly change what another player has done, and directly outbidding someone on a building is the only way you can play something that definitely screws another player. But, you have to constantly assess what everyone else is doing in making your decisions. And, sometimes, you get lucky.
In the first game we played, in the final round, I really needed to draw three colonists to fully staff a couple of buildings, which was going to generate a ton of points for me. However, I only had a 5-value die left, and my son, who was playing after me, had both a 4 and a 6. (I had just played another die on the vent, since I’d need a bunch of energy to pay for these colonists.) I really needed him to play that 4, since he knew what I was trying to do and if I played the 5 on the Doorstep first, he was certain to drop the 4 in there. Since the Doorstep using the “exposure” resolution, he’d get to play that 4 before I could play the 5, and given the other die already there, I knew there wouldn’t be enough left for me. But then, the other friend we were playing with, totally unaware of what I needed, outbid my son on a building. He didn’t have enough minerals to pay for the building if he used the 6 to win it, so he only choice was to play the 4 on the building, thus allowing me to play the 5 on the Doorstep and get the colonists I so desparately needed.
So much going on there, which is what makes this game so incredibly deep. That entire sequence turns out differently if, at the start of the round, my son hadn’t had the lowest number of resources and so got to pick the turn order, with him going last. If I had be able to pick, I would have had myself go last (I’m pretty sure that going first is an advantage in the early game, and last in the late game, but I’d have to play the game a bunch more to be sure), and I wouldn’t have had to do all of that strategizing.
The game also does a nice job of adding some twists to the normal resource management/worker placement mechanic. That fact that each of the six spots on the board play slightly differently makes things interesting. The “exposure” mechanic for deciding the Vents, Quarry, and Doorstep introduce a lot of tactics. And of course the added piece that it’s all based on die rolls, so elements of luck apply along the way.
I mentioned this earlier, but it’s worth noting again: the artwork in the game is fantastic. The artwork very nicely carries the theme throughout, and this game just as great table presence.
When I first reviewed this game, the designer asked me to send the prototype on to another reviewer, and through most of the intervening year, almost any time I would mention someone was sending me a game, my son would say, “Is it Artemis?” He was so thrilled when I finally did get the final copy after Gen Con, and we’ve played it several times since. It’s a game I would recommend to anyone who likes abstract strategy, and it was an easy call to give it the GeekDad Approved seal.
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Disclosure: GeekDad received a copy of this game for review purposes.